Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Most babies, if given the chance, will learn to breastfeed on their mother’s breasts—regardless of size or shape.
Women with small breasts make just as much milk as women with large breasts. Milk production (supply) is a product of milk removal (demand). The more milk your baby takes from your breasts (or you express) the more milk you will make. Volume (how much milk the breasts make) should not be confused with capacity (how much milk the breasts store). Mothers can produce the same amount of milk, but have different storage capacities. Babies of mothers with larger storage capacities may breastfeed fewer times a day compared to babies of mothers with smaller capacities, but still take in similar amounts of milk over the course of the day.
While breast size and shape seldom affect a mother’s ability to produce milk, unusually shaped breasts (widely spaced or tubular) can signal an underlying problem, such as insufficient glandular tissue (breast hypoplasia), a condition that makes it nearly impossible for a mother to make the amount of milk her baby needs. Symptoms of breast hypoplasia include:
- widely spaced breasts (breasts that are more than 1–2 inches apart)
- breast asymmetry (one breast is noticeably larger than the other)
- tubular (elongated) shape
- large or bulbous areola (the darker part of the breast around the nipple)
- absence of breast changes during pregnancy and after birth (no tenderness, fullness, or leaking)
Knowing that any amount of breast milk is beneficial to babies, mothers with low milk supply are still encouraged to breastfeed. Even though they may need to supplement with donor milk or infant formula in order to meet their baby’s nutritional needs, they can delight in knowing that they can still meet their baby's emotional needs—after all, the breast is a wonderful place to cuddle.
Nipple size and shape can also make it easier or harder for some babies to breastfeed. In the beginning, for example, a baby with a tiny mouth may be unable to latch on to a nipple the size of a thumb. But over time (days or sometimes weeks) the baby grows and a poor fit eventually becomes a perfect fit. In the meantime, a mother can express her milk by hand or with a pump and breast milk-feed her baby until he is able to latch on well. For more tips on managing a temporary mismatch between a mother’s nipple and a baby’s mouth, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
Women with flat or inverted nipples can also find breastfeeding challenging at first, but since your nipples are the only nipples your baby knows, together you will learn to adjust your positions to ensure a good latch. For more information on how to manage flat or inverted nipples, read this.
If you have questions about the size and shape of your breasts or nipples and how it might affect your ability to breastfeed, don’t hesitate to contact an IBCLC or someone trained to help moms and babies breastfeed.